Collecting as a way of life

an interview with René Braginsky

When did you start collecting and how many objects are there now in your collection?

René Braginsky: I started collecting books more than twenty years ago, after being unable to find an illustrated blessing for our son’s Bar Mitzvah celebration. We had to make do with a copy. For his wedding, however, we were able to reproduce a blessing from our own collection. As I slowly acquired a taste for collecting, I gradually bought more things, and of increasingly high quality, too, whenever possible. A good friend of mine, an elderly collector, encouraged me. The Judaica collection now comprises more than 700 pieces: books mainly, but also illustrated wedding contracts and Esther scrolls.

What motivates you to collect Hebrew manuscripts? Do you collect with a specific objective or mission in view?

Interior view of the special exhibition. A few book on blue painted slope wall

Interior view of the special exhibition “The Creation of the World. Illustrated Manuscripts from the Braginsky Collection” © Jewish Museum Berlin, Foto: Martin Adam

Of interest for me, first and foremost, is the direct connection with Jewish history, with my view of Jewish history. The sheer variety of the illustrations fascinates me, too, and the regional and national influences one can see in them. Jewish books in Germany are primarily German books, just as Jewish books from Spain are primarily Spanish and those from Morocco Moroccan. Jews lived in diverse worlds, in a diaspora, and the illustrations in the books reflect this. And these old books so full of erudition bring me peace and make me confident, too, that whatever is really importantwill always survive. The mission, if there is one at all, is my conviction that one shouldn’t hide such treasures from the world, but rather share them freely. That is why we set up our websites (braginskycollection.com und braginskycollection.ch) , put two iPad apps online (Braginsky Collection und Braginsky Collection Berlin) and chose to exhibit a part of our collection in Berlin, currently for the fifth time around. Over the years, the exhibitions and online sources have enabled many tens of thousands of citizens from all over the world—both Jewish and non-Jewish—to share our enjoyment of the collection.

Do you believe the market for collectors of Judaica and Hebrew manuscripts has changed over the last few decades? Have you come across any counterfeiters or crooked dealers?  continue reading


Jewish Script and Love By Contract

A group of children and a guide in the exhibition

Schoolchildren on a guided tour of the exhibition “The Creation of the World”
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Nadja Rentzsch

“I know!” shouts Tamo* (aged 10): “It’s Jewish writing!” “It’s called Hebrew—Hebrew writing” Mia (aged 10) corrects him. She knows the term because her best friend comes from Israel. She has seen letters like this before, at her friend’s house. Alexander (aged 34) chuckles. He works at the Jewish Museum and is giving a group of primary schoolchildren from Berlin a tour of “The Creation of the World,” our current temporary exhibition. On display are historical manuscripts and artful illustrations.  continue reading


Practicing Our Storytelling Skills

Preparing for the Educational Program on the Exhibition “The Creation of the World”

A depiction of a bird holding a wine goblet

Detail from a Megilla (Esther scroll), 1750-1800, Alsace
© Braginsky Collection, Zurich, photo: Ardon Bar-Hama

As a part of the educational program accompanying the exhibition “The Creation of the World: Illustrated Manuscripts from the Braginsky Collection” we’re offering the workshop “But the Snake was Craftier…” about telling and passing down stories from generation to generation. Since very few of the schoolchildren who will participate in the workshop can read Hebrew, we’ll be looking closely at the illustrations. In addition to portrayals of David with the harp and Adam and Eve in the manuscripts, our program looks at the megillot, or Esther scrolls, with their illustrations. Six scrolls have been unrolled to their full length for the exhibition.

Before we take participants in to see the exhibition, a guide will tell the story of Esther. During this conscious act of listening, each person generates pictures in his or her own mind’s eye. Afterwards, the group visits the exhibition and looks at the Esther scrolls with a magnifying glass to re-discover the scenes they’ve heard about.

To prepare for this workshop, we consulted a storytelling expert. Ten museum employees met with Prof. Dr. Kristin Wardetzky to practice storytelling under her tutelage. The first chairwoman of the Society for the Art of Storytelling, Prof. Wardetzky also founded the storytelling department at the Berlin University of the Arts’ theater education department.

Our two-day workshop with Prof. Wardetzky enthralled us all.  continue reading